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Helen Thomas quits

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BREAKING UPDATE: JTA’s Ron Kampeas reports that Helen Thomas has annopunced her retirement:

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Helen Thomas quit her job with Hearst in the wake of mounting outrage over her assertion that Israeli Jews should "return" to Poland, Germany and the United States.

"Helen Thomas announced Monday that she is retiring, effective immediately," said a statement issued Monday by Hearst Corporation. "Her decision came after her controversial comments about Israel and the Palestinians were captured on videotape and widely disseminated on the Internet."

Thomas was asked by Rabbi David Nesenoff on May 27 if she had "any comments on Israel."

"Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine," she said.

Nesenoff, who was attending the first Jewish American Heritage Month event at the White House, asked where Jews should go.

"Go home," Thomas said. Asked to elaborate, she said: "Poland, Germany and America, and everywhere else."

Nesenoff did not post his video to his website, RabbiLIVE.com, until last week; subsequent to its release a number of Jewish groups and figures asked for Thomas’ removal, if not from Hearst as a columnist, than from her front-row center perch in the White House press room.

Thomas had since apologized for the comment, but some of the critics said the apology was evasive.

"I deeply regret my comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians," said the apology posted on her website. "They do not reflect my heart-felt belief that peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognize the need for mutual respect and tolerance. May that day come soon."

Below is the original version of this post, which went up before Thomas’ announcement.

The "Helen Thomas tells Israeli Jews to go back to Germany, Poland and the United States" story isn’t going away.

Thomas actually made her remarks on the same day as the White House’s May 27 American Jewish Heritage Month celebration. But it wasn’t posted to the Web until last week, on June 3, by Rabbi David Nesenoff of RabbiLive.com. The chronolgy is important for two reasons:

  1. It underscores that Thomas’ animous cannot be explained way as some sort of heat-of-the-moment reaction to the flotilla incident.
  2. It helps explain the passionate response from the Jewish community and Israel supporters — because Thomas’ comments hit the blogosphere smack in the middle of what they see as a post-flotilla assault on Israel’s legitimacy.

Here’s the initial video of her remarks:

Now the apology:

I deeply regret my comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians. They do not reflect my heart-felt belief that peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognize the need for mutual respect and tolerance. May that day come soon.

The Associated Press is reporting that one school has nixed Thomas — a longtime critic of Israel, but best known for her confrontational opening questions as the dean of the White House press corps — as a graduation speaker:

A high school graduation speech by veteran White House reporter Helen Thomas has been canceled because of controversial remarks she made about Israel, the school’s principal said in an e-mail Sunday.

Thomas had been scheduled to speak at the June 14 graduation of Walt Whitman High School, but Principal Alan Goodwin wrote in the e-mail to students and parents that she was being replaced. The school in the Washington suburb of Bethesda, Md., hasn’t picked a new speaker.

"Graduation celebrations are not the venue for divisiveness," Goodwin wrote.

Thomas has been taking it on the chin in recent days.

  • Daniel S. Mariaschin of B’nai B’rith: These vile comments, unfortunately, are the culmination of Thomas’ ongoing anti-Israel sentiments that she kept thinly veiled over the years. There should be no place for her in a news organization. Her comments go beyond commentary and land well in the camp that will stop at nothing to delegitimize Israel.
  • Abe Foxman of the ADL says her apology was insufficient: Helen Thomas’s statement of regret does not go far enough. Her remarks were outrageous, offensive and inappropriate, especially since she uttered them on a day the White House had set aside to celebrate the extraordinary accomplishments of American Jews during Jewish American Heritage Month. Her suggestion that Israelis should go back to Poland and Germany is bigoted and shows a profound ignorance of history. We believe Thomas needs to make a more forceful and sincere apology for the pain her remarks have caused.
  • Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center: Helen, I got two things to say to you — first, the Jews are not in Palestine,  they’re in the state of Israel here they belong and where their ancestors lived for two thousand years before  Mohammed was born. Second,  you’re the one who should go — there should be no place for bigots in the White House press room.
  • Lanny Davis: Helen Thomas, who I used to consider a close friend and who I used to respect, has showed herself to be an anti-Semitic bigot. This not about her disagreement about her criticisms of Israel. She has a right to criticize Israel and that is not the same as being an anti-Semite. … Of course Helen has the right as a private citizen under the First Amendment to speak her mind, even as an anti-Jewish bigot   – but not as a member, much less privileged member with a reserved seat, in the WH press corps.
  • Mort Klein of the Zionist Organization of America: Helen Thomas’ despicable anti-Semitic statements must not be tolerated. She should be fired by Hearst News and barred from the White House press corps. There is no way such vicious denial of Jewish nationhood and connection to the Jewish homeland would be tolerated if such statements were uttered in respect of any other people.
  • Jerry Silverman of the Jewish Federations of North America and Rabbi Steve Gutow of the Jewish Council of Publica Affairs: Helen Thomas has showed herself to be a bigot and her ‘apology’ fails to address the anti-Semitism of her comments. She has no place in the White House briefing room and should at the very least be suspended.
  • Ira Forman of the National Jewish Democratic Council: "Thomas’ comments that Jews living in Israel should ‘go back home to Poland, Germany, America and everywhere else,’ combined with her remark that Israel should ‘get the hell out of Palestine’ are shocking. These statements call into her question her ability to objectively carry out her responsibilities…. Thomas has a right to her opinions — as shocking as they might be.  She has, by her longevity as a journalist, earned many accolades. We acknowledge that she has issued something of an apology — though one that does not clearly reject her initial remarks. Nonetheless, we feel compelled to ask Hearst Corp. and Thomas in light of these stunning remarks, to seriously consider whether it is proper to continue in her current role."
  • Matt Brooks of the Republican Jewish Coalition: I think Ari Fleischer is correct; Hearst should sever its ties with Thomas. It’s time for Helen Thomas to give up her special seat in the White House press room and go home.
  • Shmuley Boteach: Helen Thomas’s stomach-turning comments about the Jews returning to Germany and Poland, where six million were gassed and cremated into piles of ash, are striking for their racism and insensitivity. Whether she said them out of senility or anti-Semitism is beside the point. Either way she has no business working for any respectable media organization or sitting as the senior White House correspondent directly in front of the President of the United States. When Don Imus made racially charged statements against a woman’s basketball team, candidate Obama demanded he be fired. It will be interesting to see how President Obama, who could not offer a single word of support for Israel since the flotilla affair, will react.

And now to the video tape:

And here’s a bonus — Thomas last week at a press conference accusing the White House of going soft on Israel over the deaths in the flotilla confrontation:

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